After 11 days without a game, the Gators will hit LSU’s court in search of its third conference win Thursday night.
The Gators (9-8) struggled in conference play and dropped seven of their nine conference games. The game against Vanderbilt scheduled for Feb. 4 was canceled after the Commodores chose to discontinue the season.
In the Jan. 31 game against Tennessee, Florida held a dominant lead for the first quarter but quickly opted for a hot-and-cold performance. The Gators’ lack of energy offensively ultimately allowed the Volunteers to clutch a 79-65 win.
The team will get one of its final chances to bounce back from its consistent conference losses Thursday with only five games left until the season’s ends.
At first glance, the Tigers (8-8) don’t appear threatening. They rank last in the SEC in scoring with 59.2 points per game. However, the team ranks fifth in steals and allows less points per game than the Gators (61.1).
If Florida guards Lavender Briggs and Kiara Smith are on the Tigers’ mind, LSU point guard Khayla Pointer and center Faustine Aifuwa should be on the Gators’ mind, too.
Pointer is the Tigers lead scorer, averaging 15.8 points per game. The senior averages 4.3 assists and 2.5 steals per game. She ranks fifth in the SEC in assists and steals.
Aifuwa leads the Tigers in rebounds, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5-inch senior towers over the Gators with her SEC ranks: fifth in blocks and eight in rebounds.
Florida shouldn’t expect a W in Baton Rouge if it repeats the same mistakes it has made the entire season — especially overreliance on Briggs and Smith.
Sure, Briggs and Smith are impressive players.
Briggs, a 6-foot-1-inch sophomore, is among the top five in points per game in the SEC. She averages 21.9 points per game and often surpasses that figure, recently scoring a career-high 41 points against Arkansas.
Smith, a 5-foot-11-inch redshirt senior, is the only SEC player consistently topping the charts. The District Heights, Maryland, native appears in the top five in steals; top 10 in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage and minutes played; and top 20 in rebounding.
But two star players aren’t enough.
To secure a win, head coach Cam Newbauer, who’s set to return after missing the last three games due to health and safety protocols, should push other players to crank up their offensive play. Relying on two stars guards to shoot more than 70% of Florida’s points, like during the Arkansas game, isn’t sustainable.
The Gators will hope to chomp at an LSU win Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will stream on SEC Network+.
Contact Grethel Aguila at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila